Newly Qualified Drivers: Passenger Restrictions

– in the House of Lords at 2:53 pm on 8 June 2005.

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Photo of The Earl of Dundee The Earl of Dundee Conservative 2:53, 8 June 2005

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they have plans to restrict the carrying of passengers by new drivers who have held a full driving licence for six months or less.

Photo of Lord Davies of Oldham Lord Davies of Oldham Deputy Chief Whip (House of Lords), HM Household, Captain of the Queen's Bodyguard of the Yeomen of the Guard (HM Household) (Deputy Chief Whip, House of Lords)

My Lords, as part of the Government's road safety strategy, the Department for Transport has considered whether a passenger restriction should apply to newly qualified drivers. The Secretary of State concluded that this would prevent such drivers providing a means of transport for other family members and taking on the role of non-drinking driver, and that it would encourage more car journeys and curtail the social and other activities of some young people, particularly in rural areas.

Photo of The Earl of Dundee The Earl of Dundee Conservative

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply. Is he aware that, in 2003, one in four convictions for death caused by dangerous driving were of drivers aged 20 or younger, despite this group accounting for only 2 per cent of car licence holders? Does he agree with the vast majority of British motorists who, in regard to newly qualified drivers here, now urge the introduction of certain measures and restrictions that are already deployed elsewhere by many other countries?

Photo of Lord Davies of Oldham Lord Davies of Oldham Deputy Chief Whip (House of Lords), HM Household, Captain of the Queen's Bodyguard of the Yeomen of the Guard (HM Household) (Deputy Chief Whip, House of Lords)

My Lords, the noble Earl is right to emphasise the statistics for newly qualified drivers. They are worse than for all other drivers. But we believe that the answer lies in improving the quality of the driving test and improving the quality of those who teach young people to drive. I think that the House will recognise that one problem with the suggestion that newly qualified drivers should be under restrictions is just how the police would be able to enforce that. In addition, it might be counter-productive if newly qualified drivers did not have the benefit of an experienced driver as a passenger alongside them, as many of them do.

E

I think that one of the most effective measures to take for newly qualified young drivers would be to restrict the engine capacity of the car they drive. Up until the age of 25 for instance only allowing up to a 1.2 litre engine. This could be monitored by DVLA by ensuring that the person's date of birth and engine size adhere to this. The same applies for named drivers on, for instance,...

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Photo of Lord Bradshaw Lord Bradshaw Spokesperson in the Lords, Transport

My Lords, surely the Minister is aware that in Northern Ireland there is a probationary driving licence, which allows somebody who has passed the driving test to drive, but to do so under certain restrictions. Driving at night and driving on the motorway, for example—neither of which is subject to tests—are much more dangerous than ordinarily conducting a vehicle. I urge him to look at the possibility of introducing a probationary licence, a "P" licence, which would be perfectly obvious to the police and act as some sort of safeguard to other road users.

Photo of Lord Davies of Oldham Lord Davies of Oldham Deputy Chief Whip (House of Lords), HM Household, Captain of the Queen's Bodyguard of the Yeomen of the Guard (HM Household) (Deputy Chief Whip, House of Lords)

My Lords, the noble Lord has introduced some important points. The tests cannot include motorway driving for the clear reason that not everyone has easy access to motorways, and there is a real problem with night driving. I think that the whole House will recognise that driving skills improve with experience. However, the statistics from countries and areas where restrictions have been imposed on newly qualified drivers show no significant improvement over the position in this country. The most rigorous state in these terms is Australia. It imposes a bevy of restrictions on newly qualified drivers, yet its accident rates for these groups are higher than ours.

Photo of Baroness Gardner of Parkes Baroness Gardner of Parkes Conservative

My Lords, speaking as an Australian, I am of course well aware of the significant part played there by the random alcohol assessment of drivers. However, is the Minister aware that newly qualified drivers in Australia carry not an "R" but a "P" as a provisional plate? Northern Ireland uses the first and Australia the latter. We have debated this issue before. I have tabled amendments on it—it must be close to 20 years ago—which were debated in this House and were fully and strongly supported by the police in Northern Ireland, which has experience in the matter.

The Minister is right that unless the police can identify the drivers in question, they cannot enforce anything. That is why the plates are an important indicator. But is he aware that one of the restrictions on young drivers in Australia is a very much lower alcohol level? That is highly significant. The road situation in Australia is different because the speed limits are high and the roads are open and wide. It is time that we too looked at special restrictions for newer drivers. Another point brought out in debate is that newer drivers are sometimes intimidated by those behind them. So such restrictions may also help them.

Photo of Lord Davies of Oldham Lord Davies of Oldham Deputy Chief Whip (House of Lords), HM Household, Captain of the Queen's Bodyguard of the Yeomen of the Guard (HM Household) (Deputy Chief Whip, House of Lords)

My Lords, we are always grateful for Australian experience, particularly in activities where in recent years they may have been better than us. We hope to equalise that in cricket this year, I am sure. But when it comes to road safety, Australia is indeed the clearest test case that we have of very significant restrictions being imposed on newly qualified drivers. I maintain the point that I made earlier. The evidence does not suggest that Australia has a better road safety record or a better set of statistics with regard to these drivers than we do. We think that the strategy we are pursuing on driving qualification and driving tests is the better one.

Photo of Viscount Simon Viscount Simon Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

My Lords, has consideration been given to imposing a power-to-weight ratio on new drivers, which might be increased with the passage of time?

Photo of Lord Davies of Oldham Lord Davies of Oldham Deputy Chief Whip (House of Lords), HM Household, Captain of the Queen's Bodyguard of the Yeomen of the Guard (HM Household) (Deputy Chief Whip, House of Lords)

My Lords, I am not able to answer that question directly. I will look into the point that my noble friend has raised and write to him.